Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 15, 2019
Abel and Cain
by Gregor von Rezzori, introduction by Joshua Cohen, translated from the German by David Dollenmayer, Joachim Neugroschel, and Marshall Yarbrough
An NYRB Classics Original
In 1985, Gregor von Rezzori published an English translation of a novel entitled The Death of My Brother Abel. The ambition of the work, certainly the most brilliant and extravagant of Rezzori’s career, was immediately recognized, but the translation was deemed faulty. Now Abel appears in a revised translation along with the prequel that Rezzori promised in its last pages, Cain. Here Abel and Cain are finally united as Rezzori intended, giving readers a chance to appreciate the genius of one of the twentieth-century’s great provocateurs.
The Death of My Brother Abel zigzags across the middle of the twentieth century, from the 1918 to 1968, taking in the Jazz Age, the Anschluss, the Nuremberg trials, and postwar commercialism. At the center of the book is the unnamed narrator, holed up in a Paris hotel and writing a kind of novel, a collage of sardonic and passionate set pieces about love and work, sex and writing, families and nations, and human treachery and cruelty. In Cain, that narrator is revealed as Aristide Subics, or so at least it appears, since Subics’ identity is as unstable as the fictional apparatus that contains him and the times he lived through. Questions abound: How can a man who lived in a time of lies know himself? And is it even possible to tell the story of an era of lies truthfully? Primarily set in the bombed-out, rubble- strewn Hamburg of the years just after the war, the dark confusion and deadly confrontation of Cain and Abel, inseparable brothers, goes on.
Any reader of European literature who has not read Gregor von Rezzori has committed the unthinkable. This is the rare writer who writes with unmatched beauty and skill while celebrating the joys of life.
[The Death of My Brother Abel] is monumental in scope and unconventional in technique.... In his depiction of the postwar years, Mr. von Rezzori has given us one of the clearest pictures we have of those Germans who desire to forget the Nazi past, to consider yesterday ‘only a rumor.’
—The New York Times
Von Rezzori's book is episodic, with stories sometimes breaking off in the middle, always with an odd poetry that finds beauty even in the most terrible destruction. A challenging consideration of a murderous history by a knowing witness.
There is a lively intelligence at work, along with a keen if dandified irony, and a justifiable despair.
—Los Angeles Times, on The Death of My Brother Abel
The reams of existential-anthropological-sociological-psychological brooding never get boring; mounted on the fabulous beasts of Rezzori’s grotesquely inventive imagery, you are carried along like a child on an accelerating merry-go-round until your head spins and you feel exhilarated or sick; or both.
—Gabriele Annan, The New York Review of Books
Gregor von Rezzori’s novels...have won him many admirers and a reputation as a writer of brilliance and of the highest ambition. He has been likened by critics both here and in Europe to Mann, Grass, and Musil.
Lost worlds and cities emerge from under von Rezzori’s pen, simultaneously beautifully remembered and richly imagined. Only the truly great writers can do that.